Today marks the 20th anniversary of the disastrous Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act — aka, welfare reform. On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law legislation to “change welfare as we knew it.” Ignorantly believing like many others in Congress that poor people were lazy and living happily on public assistance, Pres. Clinton put into effect measures that would require parents with minor children to enter futile job programs and put lifetime limits on cash assistance. In turn, government promised to work with states and businesses to create millions of jobs and training programs that, coupled with child care and medical support, would lift low income and poor people out of poverty and enable them to be self-sufficient.
The government never delivered on its promise of jobs but it did uphold time limits. As a result, millions of low income families across the U.S. have ended up in deeper poverty. Children are living with inadequate housing, nutrition and educational support; and their parents have no safety net for support. Extended families, community programs and non-profit groups have had to take up the burden of ensuring poor families are not living in complete destitute. This is not successful legislation. This is “welfare deform.”
MWRO rejects the notion that poor people are poor because we choose to be! We have been made to be poor because capitalism requires poverty to exist to exploit workers and maximize profits for greedy corporations and their politician partners. No human being would ever choose to live day-to-day in poverty, scraping by to keep your children and yourself safe and fed. We all have a right to have our basic needs met and to enjoy life with health and happiness.
You can learn more about PRWORA and find a reading list of books and articles about poverty and the consequences welfare reform legislation at Welfare Reform Syllabus. Also, read The Nation’s Why It Matters That Hillary Clinton Championed Welfare Reform.